How to lower your electricity bill in the summer

How to lower your electricity bill in the summer

While parts of the country bake in triple-digit temperatures, Americans turn on the air conditioning – and increase their electricity bills.

Bills that would normally rise at this time of year are rising because the cost of producing electricity has risen rapidly. Nearly 90 percent of homes in the United States use some form of air conditioning for cooling, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The administration’s latest forecast shows that average electricity prices for homes will increase by 4.7 per cent this summer compared to last summer.

Here are tips for managing your cooling bill.

Seasonal adjustments can help keep central air conditioners running smoothly. Technicians usually check coolant levels and clean cooling coils. “It makes the air conditioner work better, and keeps costs down,” said Adam Cooper, senior director of customer solutions at the Edison Electric Institute, a group that represents investor-owned electric companies.

If you have delayed maintenance, you may have to wait longer for service in warmer months. But you can at least change the system’s air filters yourself, to keep cooled air flowing and help the unit work efficiently.

Close blinds or screens during the day to keep out sunlight. You can also try plastic film that sticks to windows to block the sun’s rays. You can have a professional install it or buy DIY kits (about $10 per window). The Department of Energy’s “energy conservation” website suggests that films are best for areas with long cooling seasons because they also block the sun’s heat in the winter.

Drafty windows and doors that keep your home cold in the winter can also make it warmer in the summer, so seal them with weather stripping, caulk or spray foam.

Proper insulation is especially important to keep your house cool and dry in hot climates, said Richard Trethewey, a heating and air conditioning contractor who appears on the TV show “This Old House.” To ensure your home is energy efficient, consider an energy audit to identify areas that need more insulation. Such assessments usually cost a few hundred dollars, but some tools cover the cost. To find a qualified contractor, search the Building Performance Institute website, which certifies technicians who perform the audits and recommended work.

Low-flow showerheads can save electricity by heating less water, said Arah Schuur, executive director of the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, or NEEP, a nonprofit that promotes regional cooperation. And “smart” power strips can turn off power to appliances when they’re not in use, she said.

Ceiling fans can help you feel cooler and allow you to set your thermostat higher. Turn off the fan when you’re not home because “fans cool people, not rooms,” says the Department of Energy. Run dryers and dishwashers during cooler hours and avoid using the oven on hot days, the department suggests.

Consider a programmable thermostat to help you manage your cooling system, especially if you’re away from home during the day. You can set it to a higher temperature while you are away and have it go lower when you return. If you choose a “smart” version that is connected to the internet, you can control it remotely from your mobile phone. Utilities may offer incentives or rebates to consumers who install the thermostats.

Some utilities pay customers who register their smart thermostats and participate in energy-saving events during times of high demand. Arizona Public Service pays customers, via bill credits, if they allow the utility to raise their smart thermostat by up to four degrees during “Cool Rewards” events over the summer. The program is limited to 20 events per summer, lasting up to three hours each.

If your cooling system is aging, consider investing in a replacement because newer models are much more efficient, Mr. Trethewey said. There are more options now, he said, like new heat pump systems that use “inverter” technology to cool your home in the summer (and heat it in the winter). “It’s like cruise control,” he said. Some states and utilities, including New York, offer financial incentives for installing heat pumps.

New cooling systems can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the type of unit, the size of the home and other variables. Expect to pay $8,000 to $12,000, said Donald Brandt, a fellow at ASHRAE, a heating, cooling and air-conditioning group.

Residential air conditioning units can last about 20 years, if they’ve been properly maintained, Brandt said.

Live in an apartment? Look for a window air conditioner that meets federal Energy Star standards. Units are usually available for a few hundred dollars up to $1,000, depending on the size needed.

Here are some questions and answers about summer cooling bills:

Ask about ‘level’ billing. To avoid hitting customers with erratic bills, companies often agree to charge a fixed monthly rate, then settle any differences in payments due once a year. Generally, your account must be in good standing to qualify.

If you’re struggling to pay your bill, the federal government funds the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. To see if you qualify, contact the appropriate agency in your state.

Raising the thermostat by just one degree in the summer will reduce your electricity bill by 2 percent, according to the Edison Institute. The Ministry of Energy suggests setting the thermostat as high as is comfortable when you are at home – aim for 78 degrees – and several degrees higher when you are away.

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